Defence Minister Simon Coveney has insisted Ireland’s neutrality has not been compromised by joining the Nordic Battle Group — even though one of its countries is also a member of Nato (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation).
The group is made up of Ireland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It also includes Norway, which is a Nato member.
Mr Coveney insisted that if any of these countries was attacked by an aggressor Ireland would not have to come to its aid, even though we are allies in the EU-formed 2,400-strong battle group. He said the purpose of the force was humanitarian, although he admitted the battle group title “was an unfortunate name”, considering its aims.
He maintained the battle group would be only used in a humanitarian crisis and that its involvement would have to be debated and rubber-stamped by the Dáil, Government, and the United Nations, or as he called it “the triple lock”.
“We are not tied into def- ending anyone,” he said.
This particular group is on standby with the EU for any intervention it may want to take and will remain on standby until July, when another EU battle group will take over.
The formation of battle groups allows the EU to deploy troops and military equipment quickly to regions as far as 6,000km away from Brussels for a minimum of 30 days. They are designed as a rapid reaction force which can deploy anywhere in that range within six days.
The battle group is presently led by Sweden, which contributes about 1,900 troops to it.
The Irish component is called Istar and its primary aim is intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance.
Norway, one of the 12 states which founded Nato in 1949, wants the organisation to take a bigger interest on what is going on in the Arctic as the ever-decreasing ice opens up the region for exploration of oil, gas, and minerals.
Other Nato members fear that a role in the Arctic would heighten tensions in what has been a peaceful region.
Mr Coveney made his comments as the debate on our neutrality has intensified in recent weeks.
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